Montana Outdoors

April 15, 2007

Tent camping

Filed under: Camping, Humor, Montana, Nature, Outdoors — montucky @ 9:38 am

I’m pretty sure there are other things in life besides fishing and hunting and spending all available time outdoors doing a host of other things, but as much as I sit back, scratch my head and try to remember, I can’t think of what they are. I’ve finally reached the state of nirvana.

Now while nirvana to the sequestered monk may be a state of complete and ultimate perfection, to the sportsman it takes on an ever-so-slightly different cast, making it more livable and so much more interesting. There are minute imperfections in his state of nirvana that have been introduced by Mother Nature, some illustrating Her immense sense of humor and others serving as a reminder of exactly Who is ultimately in control of the outdoor world.

To the outdoorsman who spends three hundred and sixty four days each year out traipsing through the valleys, streams, hillsides, ridges and up and over all the peaks within a hundred mile radius of home base in all types of weather conditions, there are certain pieces of equipment that are absolutely essential, to cite as just one example, a good tent.

(Incidentally, the other day of the year is well spent explaining to the Chief Financial Officer exactly why all this time outdoors is completely unavoidable, and putting together the equipment budget for the next three hundred and sixty four days, the success of the budget, of course, depending on the believability of the previously mentioned explanation. That‘s why all outdoorsmen are noted for being very creative individuals.)

Statistically, most of the residents of the US own tents, although the numbers are skewed more than slightly by those of us who happen to own a dozen or so in various states of disrepair (such as California, Montana and Massachusetts), and most of them have misconceptions about the nature of the tent itself. Now is as good a time as any to correct some of those misunderstandings. Because I have a certain amount of consideration for the physical capacity of internet servers to contain information I will limit myself to addressing just two for the moment.

Tents keep out the rain.

This misconception is often cited as one of the main motivations for making the sporting goods manufacturers and retailers happy with their profit numbers but in fact, no statement could possibly be further from the truth.

If you calculate the actual fabric area of an average tent (not including the floor, if any), you would find it to be somewhere around 20,000 square inches. That’s for a pyramid-shaped tent approximately seven feet high and ten feet on each side. Now every one of those square inches is capable of stopping rain water from passing on to the inside. Except for one tiny spot of, say 1/1000 of a square inch, which is always strategically located directly over your sleeping bag (due to Mother Nature’s reminder about who is in control as noted in paragraph two). As I have carefully documented over many years, this .00000005 of the tent area actually has the capability of introducing approximately two gallons per second of rain water into the tent and onto your sleeping bag during a medium rain storm. During a heavy rain, it’s a good policy to keep the door fully open to let the water which came in through this tiny opening back out. It also gives you additional space which can be used for wringing out your sleeping bag.

Tents stop the wind.

This misconception illustrates Mother Nature’s incredible sense of humor and also her commitment to enforcing a strict exercise policy for sportsmen and campers. If the Council for Truth in Advertising were to have an outdoor person among its membership, this would be more properly stated as “Tents collect the wind.”

Camping in western Montana is usually done in the mountains. In eastern Montana it is done on the plains. Both cases involve a tremendous amount of cardiovascular exercise, and mountain camping also includes the addition of an agility test.

As any woodsman worth his salt could tell you (after a lifetime squandered, er, spent outdoors I still don’t understand why our worth is measured in salt), when camping in the mountains the proper placement for a tent is near the head of a small ravine around fifty yards from the crest of a ridge. In that particular location a small area completely devoid of vegetation can always be found, and there is a good reason for that.

While during the daytime hours it is normally very tranquil with only the trace of a slight breeze, sometime between setting up the tent and successfully getting a good night’s sleep in it, a severe wind always starts up and ravages up the ravine to the bare spot upon which the tent has been placed, forming at that precise location a diabolical vortex of fury which explains why that spot was bare in the first place. The tent, along with any vegetation that was overlooked during previous storms is uprooted and re-deposited over the top of the ridge into a patch of dense timber complete with fallen trees and big boulders which were also deposited there in storms past. This tent migration is always accompanied by or immediately followed by the previous residents of the tent, necessitating the cardiovascular effort.

The campers will pass the agility test if they are able to successfully sprint up to and over the ridge in the darkness of the night, dodging trees and boulders while weaving in and out between the bears who have gathered to witness the spectacle, and recapture the renegade tent moments before it violates Canadian air space.

Most tent camping east of the divide occurs during antelope season, the opening of which normally occurs three days after the daytime temperature drops from the seventies to the thirties and the nighttime temperature sinks down into the teens. At the same time the average IQ of the antelope hunter also sinks into the teens as illustrated by his choice of a tent for his principal place of residence during the hunt.

As in camping in the mountains, the tranquility of the daytime lulls the camper into a pseudo-state of nirvana, which state lasts exactly until the campfire is out and the sleeping bag inside the tent starts feeling very, very good.

Although meteorologists have successfully measured and documented the speed of winds in hurricanes and an occasional tornado, so far not a single one of them has even dared to attempt to test the wind speed at night on the plains of eastern Montana, especially during antelope season.

I’ve heard experts attest that an antelope can approach a speed of fifty miles per hour and I can personally attest to passing a herd of antelope which was cruising at their top speed while I was chasing down my only means of shelter in the middle of a cold night east of the Divide, leaving them in the huge cloud of dust raised by a fleeing tent which was dragging its tent stakes and a couple of the slower-reacting hunters.

Of these two camping conditions, I much prefer camping in the rain because a tent full of water is much easier to catch and sleeping in a wet suit can be pretty darn comfortable once you get used to it.

April 13, 2007

Finding balance

Filed under: Conservation, Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Photos, Pictures, Reflections — montucky @ 11:17 am

How does one find balance in this unbalanced world?

There is a balance point, a place where meditation and resolve take place.

It is at the crest of this high ridge, right where it touches the sky,

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just between the town side, the place of people and their thought structures, architecture and highways

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and the other side which was the same long before we came along and will still be the same long after we’re gone.

Home of the cat

We must protect places like this, for where else can one go to seek the perspective so necessary to peace of mind.

April 12, 2007

The trump card

Filed under: Fishin' stories, Fishing, Humor, Montana, Outdoors — montucky @ 9:06 pm

Give a man a fish and you’ve fed him for a day.

Teach a man to fish and you’ve pretty much ruined his marriage!

As usual in the off season (defined as any time I’m not actually out on a stream fishing) I was tying up another batch of trout flies, when my wife walked in and announced : “If you go fishing one more time this week I’m going to leave you!”

A quick glance at the Fish & Wildlife calendar on my tying table told me this time it was pretty serious: today’s only Thursday. Hmmm, let me think… a new week starts Sunday and…

(By the way, I started out using the masculine gender. I certainly don’t mean to leave out those of the female persuasion. If you are young, attractive and rich, or if you have an exceptional back cast , I may be contacted at….. but wait, I’m getting ahead of myself here: there’s two days left on the ultimatum. It‘s still mathematically possible… I could make it.)

“Besides, I don’t understand how you can spend so much time with those slimy, smelly things!”

“Hon, trout aren’t slimy, they’ve got scales. And they don’t smell bad if you take good care of them after they’re caught.”

“I don’t mean the fish! I mean your fishin’ buddies! Compared to a couple of them a fish smells like a basket of peach blossoms. When was the last time one of them had a bath?”

(Well, there was the time when that log gave way and all of us had to swim back to the bank… But I was already losing this contest and didn’t want to bring that up at the moment. Besides, it was the previous summer and probably wouldn’t satisfy her stringent hygiene standards anyway.)

It was now obvious this was the time to play my trump card.

“OK, Hon. You’re right. I’ll leave my tackle where it is, start up the computer and work some more on those fishin’ stories I’ve been writing. Should have a couple of them finished by Sunday if I start right away.”

A period of very loud silence. And I knew I had won!

“I’ll get your waders and fix you a sandwich. If you leave right now you should catch the evening rise. Want me to call some of your friends?”

If I don’t use the trump card too often, this marriage might just last a few more years!

April 11, 2007

Clouds

Filed under: Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Photos, Pictures — montucky @ 7:26 pm

The beauty of clouds
over high places.

Clouds over Mt Baldy

Spring clouds,
the promise of rain.

Spring Clouds

Flat-bottom clouds,
the promise of life.

Spring Clouds

April 10, 2007

Thirty miles of flowers

Filed under: Environment, Flowers, Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Photos, Pictures — montucky @ 8:15 pm

The current forecast for 2007 is for a long fire season with a very early start, and when I hear that I think also of the beautiful flowers that are among the first plants to cover a burned area after a fire.

“fear the Fireweed, not the fire” (from The Sun Singer). In that context in Malcolm Campbell’s novel there was a very good reason for those words of caution, and knowing the beauty of the flowers made it an especially enjoyable scene.

Fireweed1

Fireweed derives its name from its ability to act as a colonizer on the burned site after a wildfire, and grows there prolifically for many years until the trees finally grow back to their normal state and again take over the forest, and even then they still populate any clear areas.

Fireweed2

On August 4, 2000, separate lightning strikes ignited five fires in one small area of very rugged terrain in western Montana, where these pictures were taken. The fires proceeded to grow, finally merging together into one large one which covered 18,917 acres (about 30 square miles). Even now, six years later, in the fall of the year Fireweed is still abundant throughout the entire burned area.

Fireweed3

In the background of the next two pictures can be seen some of the burned firs and lodge pole pines still standing. Some of them are now the source of my firewood supply for the winter.

Fireweed4

This fire was close to home for me: it was about fifteen miles to the east, and during the day I could watch the slurry bombers drop their loads of fire retardant. During the night, the sky over that area was bright orange, and tall flames were clearly visible as they swept over the crest of the ridge. Today Fireweed is still there, but the grasses are back and small trees are already beginning to re-grow the forest.

Fireweed5

April 9, 2007

“Where the deer and the antelope play”

Filed under: Antelope, Montana, Mule deer, Nature, Outdoors, Photos, Pictures, White-tail deer — montucky @ 8:53 pm

In contrast to the mountain scenery that I love so much, there’s another side to Montana; the huge plains east of the divide. Every October I travel to the east side for an antelope hunt, and while I consider the mountains around my home to be nearly unparalleled in beauty, the vastly different scenery of the plains has its own appeal.

The Musselshell river valley with the Beartooth Mountain range (at the north border of Yellowstone) in the background:

EM4
It’s because of views like this that Montana is known as the “Big Sky” state. (Looking east toward the Dakotas.) This is 350 miles from my home near the Idaho border.

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It’s no wonder that the survival strategy of the antelope utilizes excellent vision and incredible running ability.

EM1
There are occasional breaks in the amazing flatness of this land, but little to provide cover or hiding places for them, and yet the number of animals living here is astounding. While simply driving along a 50 mile stretch of US Highway 12 on my last trip I counted 149 deer (both white-tails and mule deer live here) and 175 antelope.

EM3

While our camping area in the low land along the river does little to shelter us from the incessant wind, it is certainly easy on the eyes!

EM2

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